THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE
NOVEL "THE BANQUO
LEGACY," AND A FEW
YEARS PRIOR TO THE
NOVEL "THE BURNING."
PETER ANGHELIDES &
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN JULY 2000.
The Doctor's not the
man he was. But whO
has he become?
a cult of TEMPORAL
voodoo terrorists -
is finally making him
one of its own. These
rebels have a mission
for him, one that will
deliver him into the
hands of his people,
who have a mission
for him too...
hewn from solid bone,
has appeared in the
skies over Gallifrey.
Its origin and purpose
are unknown, but its
powers threaten to
tear apart the web of
time. Only the Doctor
can get inside... but
soon he will learn
that nothing is safe
and nothing sacred.
confronted by past
and future crimes,
the Doctor finds
himself a prisoner
of his own actions.
With options finally
running out, he must
face his FINAL defeat
or take one last,
The Ancestor Cell
Let’s start with the headline: the destruction of Gallifrey. Well the first one, at least. The original, you might say.
Looking back on The Ancestor Cell with more than a decade’s hindsight, it’s still hard to believe that it isn’t Lawrence Miles’ name sat beneath the cover’s bone-hewn flower. It was Miles that devised the time-travelling voodoo cult Faction Paradox; Miles that sewed the
seeds of the Time Lords’ unfathomable war with the Enemy; and it was Miles that turned
the Whoniverse both upside-down and inside-out with his two-tome continuity quagmire, Interference. But with incoming editor Justin Richards looking to commence his reign with
an almighty clean sweep, it fell not to Miles but to the curious combination of Peter Anghel-ides and Stephen Cole to tie up all the range’s lingering threads. Or, as the case ultimately turned out to be, chop them off and cauterise them, as if they were offending Faction limbs.
As one might expect from a novel that culminates in the annihilation of an entire constellation, The Ancestor Cell is extremely action-packed. After an opening TARDIS battle that is sure to set pulses racing, the fleeing Compassion jettisons the Doctor and Fitz on Gallifrey, which is being menaced by a gargantuan bone structure in its skyline. This “Edifice” has taken on the form a macroscopic Gallifreyan Flower of Remembrance – a portent of the devastation that it is beginning to wreak upon the web of time.
The authors’ ambitious set pieces are punctuated with perfectly-paced plot developments and magnificent characterisation. The Doctor and Fitz aside, nobody stands out more than Romana, the licentious War Queen of the Nine Gallifreys. Picking up precisely where Paul Cornell left off in The Shadows of Avalon, Anghelides and Cole clearly had tremendous fun writing for this flighty but fierce madam. Despite her actions, Romana doesn’t feel like quite as much of a heel here - on occasion there are even flashes of the woman that travelled with the Doctor for so long, particularly in her many scenes with Fitz – yet she still has an ominous aura about her; an air of impiety no doubt engendered by the centuries that she’s spent as Gallifrey’s beleaguered head of state.
However, Gallifrey’s briefest-serving President of all time, Greyjan the Sane, the so-called “Sage of Paradox”, is almost as arresting an individual. Resurrected by a Time Lord Faction coven using a Remote remembrance tank and biodata stolen from the Matrix, the erstwhile President awakes from his suicide to find himself in the middle of the very crisis that his fear of drove him to top himself in the first place! Greyjan’s completely bonkers, and relentlessly entertaining with it, and better still his researches into the eponymous ancestor cell and the Time Lords’ aggravation of the Enemy are supremely engrossing, if a little underdeveloped. It really is a crying shame that Miles’ arc was so brutally foreshortened.
Where the authors really shine though is in their handling of the Doctor and Fitz – both of him. The coven of young Paradox novitiates that Compassion deposits Fitz amongst take almost a perverse interest in him, looking to terrorise him by showing him his death. Using a Time-Space Visualiser to forecast his future (as opposed to tuning into a Beatles performance), the novitiates are staggered to discover Fitz as a two-thousand year-old, one-armed man encased in armour, trapped within IM Foreman’s bottle universe – but not for long. The Time Lords have stolen Foreman’s Klein bottle and sent it into the Time Vortex so that, if need be, they may use it as a final retreat from the Enemy. But in sending the bottle into the Vortex’s four-dimensional environment, its three-dimensional prison is breached and Father Kreiner is set free.
Now Fitz is a cracking companion in any event. The writers could have afforded him compa-ratively scant development, and he’d still have given most TARDIS travellers a decent run for their money. The post-Interference Fitz, however, is a revelation. Cloned in a remembrance tank, the Fitz that we’ve read about since The Blue Angel isn’t really Fitz Kreiner at all. He may have the memories and personality of the original, but out there, drifting in a universe in a bottle, is the real Fitz Kreiner; his life monstrously prolonged, his body deformed beyond recognition, his fate the direct result of the Doctor abandoning him millennia ago. There is
so much mileage in this notion, and despite everything else that is going on in this book, the authors still manage to explore it satisfactorily. Whilst we’re still a long way off the emotional breakdown of Earthworld, the new Fitz’s horror at his true self’s fate is beautifully portrayed, and “Father Kreiner” himself is even more beguiling still. To see this crippled, Darth Vader-like figure’s incandescent ire eclipsed by his yearning to see his torment completely undone is astonishingly affecting, and really lends weight to the Doctor’s dilemma as he continues to struggle against the Faction virus that is threatening to make him one of their number.
I think what I like most about the authors’
handling of Fitz though is that, even in
such a tumultuous tale, he remains the
archetypal companion. The story may
be told in the third person, yet Fitz is
always the reader’s anchor, relatable
and credible throughout. And in a real
masterstroke, as a ‘mere’ human, Fitz
is able to see things that Time Lords
and temporal terrorists cannot. The
Ancestor Cell starts with nine Gallifreys
and ends with none, and Fitz is the only
character who can see them falling away
around him, one Panopticon side at a
The Doctor, meanwhile, is “not the man he was.” Indeed, The Ancestor Cell paints a picture of a Doctor that is light years away from one that most readers would recognise. Here he’s frightened and irresolute, his very essence contaminated with the Faction Paradox biodata virus that he contracted on a Dust – the biodata virus that only his trusty old Type 40 TARDIS is keeping at a bay…
Even at the time of this novel’s publication, I don’t think that the return of the Doctor’s original TARDIS took anyone by surprise, but having it return as the “Edifice” was utterly unexpected, as was the role that she would go on to play. The authors do a wonderful job of imbuing the Doctor’s miraculous craft with real personality here – she might not be the Brigadier-shaped avatar that we’d see in Zagreus a few years later, but she’s much more than a cantankerous old piece of machinery. Indeed, the lengths that she goes to in an attempt to save the Doctor from the Faction’s infection are really quite moving. It speaks volumes about her dedication to her pilot that she’d start a Time War and allow millions to die in the Time Lords’ Enemy’s first strike rather than let him succumb to the Faction.
Following the third Doctor’s corrupted regeneration on Dust, the TARDIS sensed that time had gone awry and sought to contain the infected timeline, rendering the Doctor’s infection only a probability. Here we learn that following her apparent destruction in The Shadows of Avalon, she managed to find a new energy source to sustain her, but with two timelines at war within her, she could not contain the temporal distortions that they generated. Now she hovers over Gallifrey wearing her inside-out, the butterflies that danced inside her cloisters now pinned to her ancient doors and crumbling into dust.
It’s ironic then that the Enemy attack provoked by the TARDIS is Faction Paradox’s ticket to power. Channelling the energy of the Enemy attack through the Matrix, the Faction are able to transfer their Shadow Parliament to Gallifrey, and there inaugurate themselves as the new Lords of Time. And as they do so, the quasi-mythical Grandfather Paradox is finally able to manifest in the flesh, tipping the balance in the divergent timeline’s favour and thus causing the Doctor to finally succumb to his infection, thus setting in motion the events that will see the Doctor become the Grandfather. A paradox.
“Congratulations, Doctor. You’re a Grandfather again.”
In most ways, I love how the authors portray both Grandfather Paradox and the Doctor here. The cleverness of the virus and the paradox that give rise to the Grandfather is impressive enough in isolation, but the portrayal of the Grandfather is absolutely abhorrent in the most pleasing of ways. Michael Jayston’s Valeyard had a charm to him, a certain refinement, but the Grandfather is the opposite end of the spectrum altogether – a bald and aged version of the eighth Doctor who has succumbed to the biodata virus and cut off his own arm, allegedly
to remove the criminal tattoo that the Time Lords branded him with. For all the controversy surrounding The Ancestor Cell and the story arc that it was charged with concluding, the things that I always remember most about it are bone and gristle; the stumps of hacked-off limbs; skeletal faces, stripped of flesh but not sinew; body horror of the most gruesome kind. And Grandfather Paradox embodies all of this awfulness, gives it an identity. And he might well be one of Doctor Who literature’s greatest villains.
Yet at the same time, the Grandfather also feels like a missed opportunity. The latter half of the novel is littered with ghostly cameos from the third Doctor who died on Dust; the Doctor who wore a dragon tattoo on his left arm, apparently his criminal branding. Rather than have the eighth Doctor come face to face with his paradoxical future, I can’t help but feel that the Doctor’s third incarnation should have become the Grandfather instead of the eighth; that
the third Doctor should have been the one having his stump squeezed as the eighth Doctor wrestled him for control of the TARDIS, the fate of the whole universe hanging in the balance. Having Eight versus Eight feels intrinsically wrong somehow, just like the Dust regeneration was designed to. But as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.
Of course, the novel’s fiery climax is thrilling irrespective of whose face Grandfather Paradox happens to be wearing. All those complexities and all those conundrums suddenly fall away as the fate of the entire universe boils down to a simple scuffle between the Doctor and the Grandfather. There is no cogitation as such; there isn’t time. The Doctor has to either fire the TARDIS’ weapon systems, draining the last of the energy holding it together and causing it implode… or not. If he does, the original timeline will crystallise, and the shockwave from the implosion will wipe Faction Paradox, Gallifrey, its populace, and the whole constellation of Kasterborous from the face of the universe. If he doesn’t, the Faction will become Lords of Time, and the universe will capitulate to chaos. The Doctor’s decision is made in an instant, but its aftermath would fuel nearly forty full-length novels, and I dare say inspire the returning television series. And you’ve just got to love that last-second look on the Grandfather’s face as he remembers the real reason he hacked off his limb. One last paradox…
“You cut off your own arm because you used it... ...to do... ...this.”
After that, the novel’s remaining
pages feel like an afterthought,
and I suppose in truth they are.
Compassion rescues the Doctor,
Fitz and a Time Lord who she’s
been sparring with for about 250
pages, deposits the former in the
late 19th century, his companion
in the early 21st, and then flies of
into the sunset with the latter as
her new pilot. It’s a surprisingly
uplifting end, at least in the sense
that it really feels like a bold new beginning (and a rousing one at that), but it does feel too tidy for words. Compassion deserved better in my view, and so did Lawrence Miles.
Nevertheless, if one is able to swallow the bitter pill that Faction Paradox, the Enemy and the War are gone, then The Ancestor Cell can’t be regarded as anything other than a success. Whilst it’s certainly not the novel that Miles would have written (and I for one wish that it had been), it is at least Milesish conceits wrapped in a Target package; colossal and confusing conundrums compacted into a narrative that almost anyone can follow. And, although they clearly lack Miles’ finesse, it has to be said that Anghelides and Cole did an impressive job of spinning his plates, even taking the time to wash them afterwards.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In reality, this story was the first to depict the annihilation of Gallifrey and the Time Lords. However, in terms of Doctor Who continuity, Gallifrey may have been decimated and/or destroyed once previously (following the events of the Gallifrey episode Panacea) only to be rebuilt nine times over prior to Romana’s regeneration.
This particular “annihilation” would ultimately be remedied shortly after the events of the final eighth Doctor novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles, only for the planet to be destroyed again at the end of the Last Great Time War. Oddly enough, this means that the Doctor is responsible not only for Gallifrey’s destruction, but for its restoration and re-destruction!
Following the events this novel, the Doctor would spend just over a hundred years on Earth whilst his original TARDIS (which had been presumed destroyed in The Shadows of Avalon) slowly regenerates itself following its cataclysmic collapse at the end of this book. The Doctor would eventually be reunited with Fitz in the novel Escape Velocity, having spent the 1888 - 2001 on Earth and even having crossed his own timeline on at least one occasion (Wolfsbane). At least he managed to avoid Captain Jack…
Finally, this novel sees the death of Fitz Kreiner, though the TARDIS copy of him made in Interference would continue to travel with the Doctor from Escape Velocity all the way up to The Gallifrey Chronicles, making the ersatz Fitz one of the Doctor’s longest-serving companions.
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